Ecobee vs. Nest Thermostat: Best Smart Thermostat of 2021

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Ecobee vs. Nest Thermostat

If you’re interested in a smart thermostat for your home, there are more options available for homeowners today than ever before. With that in mind, for many consumers there are only two viable options with the Google Nest or the Ecobee Smart Thermostat. Both are designed to provide precise climate control and are incredibly efficient, but there are some significant differences between these two smart thermostats.

Ecobee Thermostats

This Canadian company introduced the world to the smart thermostat back in 2008 with the Ecobee Smart EB-STAT-02. While that device was expensive, it was impressive, although it was four years before the company released the Smart Si thermostat.

The first generation of the Ecobee smart thermostat that we know today was launched in 2014 with the Ecobee3, and the company has kept up a yearly release schedule since that date. All the previous generations of their thermostats have been phased out except for three models with the Ecobee3 lite, Ecobee4, and the Ecobee SmartThermostat.

If you want their top-tier model, that would be the Ecobee Smart Thermostat with voice control. It has Alexa built-in and allows you to stream through Spotify Connect. It’s the only thermostat that comes with a SmartSensor and supports Wi-Fi on the 5 GHz band. The Ecobee4 also has built-in Alexa functionality but no calling capabilities, Bluetooth streaming, or a SmartSensor.

The most affordable option from the company is the Ecobee3 lite. It doesn’t have an occupancy sensor, Bluetooth or Alexa onboard but works with Apple Homekit, Google Assistant, and Alexa like the rest of their thermostats. All models are compatible with the company’s mobile app, so the differences come down to a few features and packages with sensors included.

Nest Thermostats

While Nest didn’t hit the market until 2011, it certainly made a splash when it arrived, and Google needs no introduction. There have been five generations of the Nest Thermostat, but just like Ecobee, there are only a few models sold through official channels today.

Older models, including the Nest E, have been discontinued even if they can still be purchased online. That leaves the Nest Thermostat and the Nest Learning Thermostat as the two most current models available in the first half of 2021. Both are extremely intelligent and have full Google support, but there are some stark differences between these two models.

For consumers concerned about their budget, the Nest Thermostat is the best option. It has a distinct style that will look good in any room with a mirror display. It doesn’t have a trim plate or work with their temperature sensor but is simple to program and control through the app. Alternatively, the Nest Learning Thermostat is considerably smarter and has a completely different vibe.

The Nest Learning Thermostat is designed to learn from your preferences and adjusts itself to better suit your needs. It’s compatible with more types of HVAC systems than the base model and has a colorful high-resolution display with some nice extra features built-in.

The Design

If you are purchasing a new furnace, the design may not play a large part in your buying decision. When something is attached to the wall or your home or in plain sight, style and design can have a major impact.

All of Ecobee’s thermostats are nearly identical, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. They are solid black with a clean design featuring only a small motion sensor on the front. At under 4”, it leaves a small footprint behind, and the modern design will look good on any wall of your home – as long as you are partial to black.

By comparison, the Nest Learning Thermostat has a premium design with a metal ring and a color display. At 3.3” in diameter and 1.21” thick, it has a low profile, and that outer ring is available in seven different colors on the premium model and four on the regular Nest with its mirrored display.

Everyone has a different sense of style, but the Nest Learning Thermostat is a clear winner from a design standpoint, in our opinion. Adding a bit of color makes a huge difference, especially when the competition’s thermostat is basically a shiny black box.

The Display

While the overall design of each of these thermostats is important, the display acts as the centerpiece for each system. It’s also an area where the Ecobee vs. Nest comparison becomes a bit cloudy depending on your needs.

First up is the Nest thermostat with its mirror glass finish display. The round panel on this thermostat is a 2.4” color display with a resolution of 240 x 320. The premium Nest Learning thermostat has a crisper 24-bit color LCD at 480 x 480 pixels. Both of these units can display color, including the famous Leaf icon, but neither has a touchscreen.

With Ecobee, you’ll get a 3.5” LCD display with color icons and a resolution of 320 x 480 pixels. Their panel is just as easy to read, and while not as vibrant, they are touchscreen enabled. Nest is the winner if you prefer a round color display to a rectangular one, but it will directly affect how you can control your thermostat.

Thermostat Controls

When you want to adjust the settings with either system, you can use the mobile app or the controls the thermostat. Both apps are available for Android and iOS devices and bring a nice array of features to the table. With manual controls, things are entirely different.

To control the Nest thermostat, you’ll need to use a touch bar slider on the device's right side. Swiping up or down will raise or lower the temperature in your home, and the panel will let you know how long it takes to reach the temperature you’re shooting for. A tap on the slider confirms selections, but the Nest Learning thermostat takes a different approach.

When you want to adjust the temperature manually from the company’s flagship thermostat, you simply need to twist the outer ring. The classic approach is a familiar one that works well, and pressing on the outer ring unlocks more options for this system.

By comparison, controlling the Ecobee3 lite, Ecobee 4, and Ecobee SmartThermostat only requires touching the panel. You can expand and select items on the menu with a tap or swipe to scroll through settings and lists with multiple items. It’s intuitive and as easy as using the screen on your smartphone or slate.

We consider this area a tie as it all comes down to personal preference at the end of the day. Some homeowners will prefer a touchscreen, while consumers that detest fingerprints or want something more traditional may prefer manual controls.

System Compatibility

Compatibility can make or break the best thermostats, including smart ones designed to make life simple. Both the Ecobee and Nest are compatible with a wide variety of heating and cooling systems, but there are some omissions you’ll want to be aware of as well.

Ecobee designed their thermostat to work with most systems, excluding millivolt systems like electric fireplaces and line or high voltage heating systems. For conventional and Dual Transform systems, it supports two heating and two cooling stages. Boilers get two heating stages, while heat pumps support four heating stages and two cooling stages.

Single-speed fan control is listed for all the smart thermostats from Ecobee, along with support for one accessory, which can include humidifiers, ventilators, and HRVs. They do not support propriety features from communicating thermostats like variable fan speeds, however.

As for the budget-friendly Nest thermostat, whether you have a system with two heating stages and one cooling stage or single-stage heating and cooling, it has you covered. Single-stage heat pumps are also compatible, although a C-Wire is required for some installations. The Nest learning thermostat covers the same ground but adds support for two-stage heat pumps, humidifiers, dehumidifiers, PTAC systems, and Dual Transformer systems.

HVAC units with two stages of cooling and two to three stages of furnace heating are also compatible. These versatile thermostats are also designed to work with 24-volt systems with the same exclusions for baseboard heaters and similar equipment. While this one was close, we feel the Nest has a slight edge in compatibility overall.

Installation

Installing any thermostat can seem like a task better left to the professionals, and in some cases, that’s true. If you have older wiring in your home, are uncomfortable dealing with electricity, or simply want your system up and running quickly, you’re better off calling a pro to install the Ecobee or Nest thermostat. If you plan to do it yourself, the first thing to consider is whether you have a C-Wire on your current thermostat.

A C-Wire or common wire is anything but common if you live in an older home. It provides a constant source of power for your thermostat and is something that can make installation on either system easier. Neither system requires one technically, but Ecobee has a PEK or power extender kit, whereas most people prefer to call in a pro to add a C-Wire for the Nest for constant power. As our guide explains, there are various ways around the C-Wire problem and several kits for 24-volt systems.

Nest has a compatibility checker that will let you know the wiring for your thermostat is compatible with the Nest, along with the steps needed to install one.  While not quite as extensive as Google’s tool, Ecobee also has an online section that lets you check the compatibility of your wiring against their thermostat.

How difficult a thermostat is to install depends on your wiring, but the Ecobee thermostat is the winner when it comes to installation. While you need a C-Wire, the fact they include a PEK kit in the box for their thermostats is a huge bonus. The Nest can keep its batteries full through pulse charging without a C-Wire, which isn’t ideal compared to a powered connection.

Performance

The measure of how “good” any smart thermostat is usually boils down to just how smart it is and the features that come into play through each company's technologies. This is an area where both devices perform exceedingly well, even if they have a similar set of features.

Ecobee’s thermostats are Energy Star approved and designed to let you control your heating and air remotely through the wonders of Wi-Fi. The models with Alexa built-in have an advantage over systems without a hub, and all can send you alerts if there are sudden changes to the temperature inside your home while you are away.

Features like Vacation mode provide peace of mind as well, while the Eco+ update takes the electrical rates in your area into account and can even help reduce the strain on the power grid through the Time of Use feature. Schedule Assistant is another handy feature that can offer suggestions on maximizing efficiency and Feels Like micromanages the conditions indoors, ensuring the temperature feels like it should.

Both thermostats sold by Nest are also Energy Star certified and built with the same purpose in mind as Ecobee’s smart thermostats. They are highly efficient and have the ability to turn themselves down while you are away, while the Google Home App allows you to control your system from anywhere. Alexa will work with these systems, but there are no thermostats with that functionality built-in.

3rd generation Nest thermostats also have Farsight. This displays information like the time, weather, and outdoor temperature clearly from across the room. The big draw of this thermostat is its ability to learn and program itself once it catches on to your routines after a week of normal usage. That results in savings between 10 – 15%, and Heat Pump Balance will do the same if you have a heat pump and auxiliary heat.

This was the toughest area to judge for use, but simple if you’re a consumer that wants your thermostat to handle the hard work. The Nest Smart Learning Thermostat performs better overall with a solid set of automation features out of the box and is perfect for homeowners that appreciate a hands-off approach.

Accessories

Accessories are a great way to extend the capabilities of a smart thermostat and something you’ll find from both Nest and Ecobee. In some cases, these products can be purchased bundled with your thermostat, and they aren’t just limited to heating and air.

The EcoBee SmartSensor is a remote thermostat sensor that can be placed anywhere in your home. The wireless cubes sit on a small stand and provide occupancy and temperature detection wherever they are placed. Follow Me Mode and Freeze Detection are also options, and they will work with any Ecobee thermostat.

Google also has a small puck-like Nest sensor that works with the Nest Thermostat E or the Nest Learning Thermostat. Like the thermostat itself, it’s something you set and forget as your system monitors the conditions. There are no other real features aside from prioritization, however.

Ecobee sensors are smarter than the ones from Google, but the design isn’t nearly as discreet. Google has a larger ecosystem to draw from overall as well if you’re looking to add a camera or other types of sensors to your home. This area is a draw due to pricing and the fact you can only pick up Ecobee’s sensors in packs of two.

Pricing

If you’re still unsure of which smart thermostat is right for your home, pricing can usually make a tough decision easy. Unfortunately, that’s not the case in our Ecobee vs. Nest comparison as these companies are in heated competition.

Currently, Google has the Nest Thermostat priced at $169, while the Nest Learning Thermostat is listed at $249. The Nest E isn’t available through their official site anymore but can still be found through Amazon for $189 with a temperature sensor included.

The premium Ecobee SmartThermostat with voice control is also priced at $249, while the popular Ecobee3 lite comes in at $169. The company also sells a certified refurbished Ecobee4 for $189 through their official website. Thermostat bundles with sensors are also available, along with packages featuring various sensors but no thermostats.  

The clear winner with pricing is the consumer. Both thermostats have identical price points and are widely available through official storefronts, locally, and from online retailers like Amazon. Prices are also locked for the most part, so they will remain the same across all retailers unless you catch a bundle on sale.

Conclusion

If you want the best connected thermostat, you’ll want to invest your money in the Nest Learning Thermostat from Google. Overall, we feel it offers better smart features with more automation than the Ecobee, and it’s hard to go against the design – it’s a best-seller for a reason.

On the flip side, the Ecobee may be easier to install, depending on your wiring, and it performs most of the same tricks but has a built-in Voice Assistant. At the end of the day, the right thermostat all depends on your needs, as both of these systems are highly intelligent and perform as advertised. 

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